New data  | 

Children account for more than a third of Covid tests as HSE battles to meet demand

Those trying to book are staying up until midnight to secure PCR slots

Photo: Brian Lawless

Amy Molloy and Laura Lynott

More than a third of people presenting for testing at Covid-19 centres are children, new data shows.

The HSE is currently working to increase testing capacity across the country in an attempt to facilitate the huge demand for appointments.

After the Government announced restrictions for the hospitality industry and households on Friday, data shows that children and young teenagers make up the biggest cohort being tested for Covid-19.

Between November 26 and December 2, 37pc of those who attended HSE test centres were aged 14 and under. The next highest group is those aged between 35 and 44, who made up 18pc of attendees.

People aged between 15 and 24 accounted for 11pc, while 12pc were aged between 25 and 34. Just 5pc were 65 or over.

Thousands sought slots for PCR tests in the last two weeks, with an average of 200,000 tests being carried out each week.

Despite the demand, a HSE spokesperson told the Irish Independent there was an average non-attendance rate of 10pc across test centres in the last number of days.

“We remind people who cannot make their test appointment to cancel it in advance so that we can provide someone else with that test appointment,” the spokesperson said.

Data provided by the HSE also shows that people are mainly booking their own appointments, rather than going through their GPs.

Between Monday and Friday, 65pc of test appointments were self-referrals, 24pc were from doctors and 11pc were close contacts.

New pop-up test centres have opened in Dublin, Athlone, Carlow, Kildare, Louth, Meath, Cork and Mayo in the last week. The test centre at Dublin Airport continues to be the busiest in the country.

On Friday, 1,236 tests were carried out there, 1,177 in Citywest and 1,159 at Galway Airport.

Centres in Cork, Limerick and Tullamore also saw a huge demand.

Meanwhile, people trying to book appointments are staying up until midnight in a bid to secure a slot as this is when availability appears to be at its greatest.

On Saturday afternoon there were no appointments available in Carlow, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois or Leitrim, or at five of the nine centres in Dublin.

However, availability does appear to have improved as there were hundreds of slots at centres in Donegal, Clare, Cavan, Galway, Limerick and Cork.

The HSE said all centres are currently operating at “maximum capacity”.

On Thursday, a glitch on the HSE’s online Covid-19 test portal prevented people from booking PCR tests.

When people attempted to confirm an appointment online, they got an error code stopping them from doing so.

Some people were able to register for appointments but never received the text message code which is required to confirm attendance.

Others received the code hours later, when the appointment page had timed out.

Meanwhile, some people who tried to book appointments in Dublin claimed that they were given the option of booking a slot at the National Show Centre in Swords on the website.

However, this is being used as a vaccination centre, not a test centre.

A HSE spokesperson said “no testing appointments were issued for the Show Centre”.

Another 5,156 new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed yesterday.

As of 8am yesterday, there were 503 patients with Covid-19 being treated in hospital, of whom 110 were in intensive care units.

Meanwhile, booster vaccines for the over-50s age group are imminent, according to Damien McCallion, HSE national director of the Covid vaccination programme.

Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week programme, he said also that there was uncertainty surrounding the new Omicron variant and the “impact it may have”.

While the “signs are encouraging”, there could be no premature measurement of the situation, he warned.

The HSE is about to mark a milestone of one million boosters being administered.

Mr McCallion said most health workers have received their third jab. Two-thirds of the over-70s have received their booster and all are expected to have received it within a few weeks.

A booster is also being offered to those aged 60 and over and to those aged 16 to 59 who have an underlying health condition.

Mr McCallion said: “We know people are busy with Christmas, we are trying to encourage people to take up appointments and if not possible, look at walks-ins and pharmacies.”

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